About a year ago I wrote a column for tribalfootball.com in which I stated my belief that Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore and Freddy Adu were among a select group of top tier U.S. based players who would soon be plying their trade in Europe.
Fast forward a year and both Dempsey and Adu are playing in England and Portugal respectively and Altidore is likely to follow in the next transfer window perhaps to join the biggest club of all - Real Madrid.
The desire of these players to test themselves in Europe is clear and their careers will benefit from the challenge of facing the best players in the world week in and week out. However the leadership of U.S. soccer can also benefit from their moves both directly, as these U.S. national team stars improve their game, and indirectly if they can grasp why these specific individuals have moved (and in the case of Altidore, will move) and what this means to the game stateside.
Dempsey moved to Fulham at the beginning of 2007 but it has been over the past few months, since the 2007-8 season started, that he has started to show what he can do. I recently interviewed U.S. and DC United star Bobby Boswell and he described Dempsey as a dangerous player (in the best possible way). Dempsey is quick, strong, unpredictable and completely confident in his own ability. He plays the game in a way that is different from the norm in the U.S. He does not rely on his physical attributes, though those are significant, but on the edge he brings to his attacking play.
Adu is still developing physically but as he has shown playing for Benfica and for the U.S. U-20 side at the World Cup in Canada, his skill level and ability to do something different gives him an edge on the field. Opposing defenders are unsure what Adu will do when they face him and that talent combined with his mental strength, he has overcome the fact that he has been written off at the age of 18, makes him a formidable opponent.
Altidore is perhaps the biggest talent of them all and if he can channel his confidence and strength he can become the biggest star U.S. soccer has ever seen. If Real Madrid are interested in Altidore it is because he has that edge, that unique combination of talent and confidence that can change games.
Looking at the three players together it seems evident that the top tier of U.S. players combine the traditional strengths of the American game, speed and physicality, with an edge - a talent for the unpredictable that is currently rare in the game stateside. The U.S. national team will benefit from incorporating these edgier talents into the structured and physically gifted pool of players that the current system develops.
However the real challenge for the U.S. soccer system is to create coaching structures that make it easier for edgier talents to develop, be found and thrive within the American game. If this can be done the future truly is bright for the U.S., not just in 2010 when the Europe based triple threat of Dempsey, Adu and Altidore will start for the national side but for the club game at home where the next generation of Clint's, Jose's and Freddy's will take MLS to thrilling new heights.
For more from Raj Purohit please visit globalfutbol.com.